Eric Johnson

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Meet the Mobile Media Projects That Just Won $2.4 Million

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This just in from the world of news: Mobile matters.

That’s the clear — if not all that surprising — message from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which just announced the winners of a mobile-themed “News Challenge,” awarding $2.4 million to eight media teams.

Most of the winners are little-known up-and-comers, ranging in their focus from political activism to community radio to connecting previously disconnected groups, like farmers in Kenya.

You’ve probably heard of at least one of the winners, though: Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia’s owner, the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, will put $600,000 from the Knight Foundation toward its mobile users in developing countries. Among their plans: Making articles accessible via text, which could be a boon for feature-phone owners.

The other winners:

  • Textizen ($350,000), an offshoot of Code for America that wants to conduct local public polling by putting questions in public places and then asking residents to respond via text.
  • TKOH ($330,000), which is developing an oral history app to make recording audio and visuals to tell a historical story easier. The app would then let users share those stories with either a small group, like their families, or with the public.
  • Witness ($320,000), a human-rights organization making an app that will add metadata to mobile videos. Thus, an app user witnessing a newsworthy event such as a political protest could send an encrypted video of the event to a journalist, with info about where the video was taken automatically baked into the file. Witness program director Sam Gregory said accountability questions have hampered Syrian rebels in the field: “Their material is not trusted by the news media, and is not robust enough to stand up to evidentiary scrutiny,” he said.
  • The Cafédirect Producers Foundation ($260,000), which will expand its efforts to enable SMS information sharing among small-scale farmers in Kenya, Peru and Tanzania.
  • Digital Democracy ($200,000), a nonprofit seeking to help indigenous Peruvian communities record and share how mining and oil drilling are affecting their lives and environment.
  • The Art Center College of Design ($200,000), which wants to develop an open-source way to turn a smartphone into a community radio station. They plan to start their work with a pilot program in Uganda, but Knight Foundation program director John Bracken said he hopes that groups will share what they learn with others in the Knight network over time.
  • Abayima ($150,000), which wants to build an open-source application for feature phones that will turn SIM cards into storage devices for news and information sharing. Founder Jon Gosier said this will help political dissidents such as those in Uganda in 2011, whose government kept tabs on its citizens’ SMS activity. “This was explained away as trying to curb messages that might incite violence, but to me, it showcased how vulnerable citizens are when there they only have a single means of communication.”

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus